A warm welcome to all my fellow walking, outdoor or London lovers! My walk around the capital in this edition of the London Wlogger sees me explore the beautiful area of Greenwich where I begin in Blackheath, stroll through Greenwich Park and take a look at The Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian Line. I’ll then discover the Queen’s House, The National Maritime Museum, The Old Royal Naval College, The Cutty Sark and Greenwich Market before taking a tunnel under the Thames to Island Gardens and Millwall Park. I’ll conclude in the Isle of Dogs where I’ll see the beauty of Mudchute Park & Farm.
It’s a walk where I explore astronomy, time, maritime and animals, with many unique, quirky and picturesque features that uncovers the immense history of London, so sit back and enjoy!
My walk begins in Blackheath, which is located in South-East London within the London Borough of Greenwich. The name derives from the Old English spoken words ‘blæc’ and ‘hǣth’. It’s recorded in 1166 as Blachehedfeld, which means “dark, or black heath field” – field denotes an enclosure or clearing but however transcribed, it’s qualified as the barren meaning of heath or stone.
At the heart of Blackheath is one of the largest areas of common land in Greater London, with 211 acres (85 hectares) of protected commons. Managed by Lewisham and Greenwich councils, the park is home to the picturesque Long Pond (also known as Folly Pond) and the traditional gem of All Saints’ Church, which was designed by the architect Benjamin Ferrey – dating back to 1857.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries the heath underwent extensive mineral extraction when gravel, sand and chalk were all extracted which would transform the heath. As a result of this, large pits were left and in 1945 they were filled with bomb rubble from World War II, then covered with topsoil and seeded with rye grass. The heath has always been a haven for wildlife with records dating back to 1859 of a wide list of animal species including natterjack toads, hares, common lizards, bats, quail, ring ouzel and nightingales – even today bats remain there.
The heath does have a strong association with sport. According to tradition, in 1608 golf was introduced to England at the Royal Blackheath Golf Club and Blackheath also had the first hockey club, which was established in the mid 19th century. Cricket was also a popular sport on the heath, with it being the home of Greenwich Cricket Club and a venue for other cricket matches. The earliest record of a match on the heath was Kent vs. London in 1730.
One of the most famous associations with sport though is that Blackheath Rugby Club is the oldest open rugby club in the world, since becoming open in 1862. Blackheath is also well-known as the starting point for the London Marathon, which began in 1981. Kite flying is the one of the other popular activities that takes place on the heath regularly too!
This is actually the first time I’ve ever visited Blackheath and I was certainly bowled over by its beautiful charm and quaint nature. The large open space adds a really pleasant feel of freedom, something you don’t get when you’re in the hustle and bustle of the city! Also the pond and church add that village look, and do remind me of some of the other common’s I’ve visited such as Clapham Common, Ham Common, Barnes Common, Wimbledon Common and Streatham Common.
I’ll now leave Blackheath and make my way to Greenwich Park!
A former hunting park, Greenwich Park is one of the largest single green spaces in South-East London (180 acres / 74 hectares) and is one of the Royal Parks of London – alongside Green Park, St James’s Park, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Richmond Park, Bushy Park and Kensington Gardens. In 1433, it became the first of the Royal Parks to be enclosed and is now part of the Greenwich World Heritage Site.
The history of Greenwich Park dates back to the 15th century when it was mostly heathland used for falconry. Henry VIII introduced deer hunting over the next century and even today there are still some deer within the park. It was James I who enclosed the park with a brick wall, with most of its remains still standing. A small section of the boundary was formerly part of Montagu House, which was once the residence of Caroline of Brunswick.
It’s widely rumoured that André Le Nôtre was the mastermind behind landscaping the park in the 17th century. The public were first allowed in the park during the 18th century, although in 1830 a plan to build a railway through the middle of the lower park was defeated after local opposition. However, the London and Greenwich Railway did extend beneath the ground via a cut-and-cover tunnel link between Greenwich and Maze Hill. There was a Greenwich Park railway station once present, but this closed in 1917 after many passengers preferred the older Greenwich station.
The park today is a rectangular shape with sides 1,000 metres by 750 metres, with two levels and a number of dips and gullies. It’s one of the most spectacular gems of London and a popular destination for tourists as well as avid nature lovers and Londoners. With a blend of towering trees, pretty ponds, glorious wildlife habitats, it’s a park that caters for all your needs.
An iconic part of Greenwich Park is The Royal Observatory that’s located on top of the park’s hill. It has played a major role in the history of astronomy and navigation, and because the prime meridian passes through it, it gave its name to Greenwich Mean Time. The Royal Observatory has the IAU observatory code of 000, the first in the list.
The life of the observatory dates back to 1675 when King Charles II commissioned it, with the stone being laid for it in August of that year, after Sir Christopher Wren chose the site. John Flamsteed was appointed the first Astronomer Royal with the building completed in the summer of 1676. Throughout the 20th century scientific work in the observatory was relocated and now it’s exclusively a museum.
Also within the area is The Peter Harrison Planetarium, which is a 120-seat digital laser planetarium – opening on 25 May 2007.
Right next to the Planetarium is The Altazimuth Pavilion, which is a telescope mounting facility constructed between 1894 and 1896 to the design of William Crisp.
The Royal Observatory also includes William Herschel’s telescope, which is the remaining section of a 40-foot (12m) reflecting telescope built by German-born British astronomer William Herschel, who became famous for his discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781. Completed in 1789 it was the largest telescope in the world
The Royal Observatory provides many quirky dome shaped buildings when you walk through it.
Within the Royal Observatory you’ll find the world famous Prime Meridian Line, which since the late 19th century has divided the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth – just as the equator divides the northern and southern hemispheres.
There are two reasons why the Prime Meridian runs through Greenwich. Firstly because the USA had already chosen Greenwich as the basis for its own national time zone system. The second was that in the late 19th century, 72% of the world’s commerce depended on sea-charts which used Greenwich as the Prime Meridian.
Since the late 19th century, the Prime Meridian at Greenwich has served as the reference line for Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT. Before this, almost every town in the world kept its own local time. There were no national or international conventions, which set how time should be measured, or when the day would begin and end, or what length an hour might be. When the railway and communications networks expanded in the 1850s and 1860s, there needed to be an international time standard. Greenwich was chosen as the centre for world time.
In 1884 the Prime Meridian was defined by the position of the large ‘Transit Circle’ telescope in the Observatory’s Meridian Observatory. The transit circle was built by the 7th Astronomer Royal, Sir George Biddell Airy, in 1850. The cross-hairs in the eyepiece of the Transit Circle precisely defined Longitude 0° for the world.
The Greenwich Meridian was chosen as the Prime Meridian of the World in 1884. Forty-one delegates from 25 nations met in Washington DC for the International Meridian Conference. By the end of the conference, Greenwich had won the prize of Longitude 0º by a vote of 22 to 1 against (San Domingo), with 2 abstentions (France and Brazil).
As the Earth’s crust is moving very slightly all the time the exact position of the Prime Meridian is now moving very slightly too, but the original reference for the prime meridian of the world remains the Airy Transit Circle in the Royal Observatory, even if the exact location of the line may move to either side of Airy’s meridian.
It’s quite an odd feeling being within such a renowned part of not just London, but the world!
Next to the Prime Meridian Line is the Shepherd Gate Clock, which is an early example of an electric clock and was constructed by Charles Shepherd in 1852. The clock was the first to display Greenwich Mean Time to the public and show astronomical time which started at 12 noon not midnight. Between 1852 and 1893 the clock was at the heart of Britain’s time system, with its time sent by telegraph wires to London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast and many other cities. By 1866 time signals could be sent as far as Harvard University, Massachusetts via the new transatlantic submarine cable. Although it doesn’t feel like it, but this clock is actually one of the most important clocks ever made, so the next time you look at your clock or watch, think of the Shepherd Gate Clock!
Next to the Royal Observatory is one of the most breathtaking views of the city and a popular place to snap for people visting Greenwich Park. You couldn’t visit the park without taking the photo of the view, as whenever you think of the park, this view comes to mind. With the spectacular sight of Canary Wharf and the city in the distance as well as the Queen’s House, National Maritime Museum, and the Old Royal Naval College, it’s a truly amazing spectacle.
I’ll now walk down the Greenwich Park hill through the park to visit the Queen’s House, the National Maritime Museum and the Old Royal Naval College.
The elegant Queen’s House was a gift from King James I to his wife, Anne of Denmark, however, by the time it was completed in 1636 – to a design by Inigo Jones – she had already died. The first person to live in the house was Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I and is the first example of a classical building in England. It was used by members of the Royal family until 1805, when George III granted the Queen’s House to a charity for the orphans of seamen. It was taken over by the National Maritime Museum in 1934. The house has a collection of over 450 pieces of art, including works by Great Masters such as Gainsborough, Reynolds, Turner and Hogarth. It’s a spectacular sight of grand buildings!
Right beside The Queen’s House is the National Maritime Museum, which opened in 1937. Outside the museum stands the eye catching ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’, which was created by Yinka Shonibare and is a scaled-down replica of Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory.
I’ll now walk to another maritime feature of Greenwich, the Old Royal Naval College. Built in the early 18th century as a retirement home for Royal Navy Sailors, this piece of distinctive architectural brilliance was commissioned by Charles II and designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It’s also known for its Painted Hall, with wonderful ceiling murals and its beautiful Chapel.
The site was also where Greenwich Palace – better known as the Palace of Placentia – once stood. Built for Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1443, Placentia was the birthplace of Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I, and was much in use throughout the Tudor era. The palace was demolished in 1660 by Charles II. The buildings are still used today by the University of Greenwich and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
Whenever you think of Greenwich you think of its park, but this wonderful landmark has also become synonymous with the borough. The buildings really are stunning and a classic example of some of the breathtaking architecture that was created in London.
At the end of the Old Royal Navy College you get an amazing view across the Thames – and I’ll now walk along it to visit the Cutty Sark.
Built in 1869 in Dumbarton, Scotland, the Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship and was one of the last tea clippers to be built. After the opening of the Suez Canal, also in 1869, it allowed steamships to have a shorter route to China, which meant the Cutty Sark spent its first few years in the tea trade, before turning to the wool trade in Australia. Over the years steam technology would improve leading to steamships taking over many of the longer routes to Australia, and subsequently the Cutty Sark was sold to the Portuguese company Ferreira and Co. in 1895 and renamed Ferreira.
She continued as a cargo ship until a retired sea captain by the name of Wilfred Dowman purchased her in 1922 and used her as a training ship operating from Cornwall. After Dowman’s death the Cutty Sark was transferred to the Thames Nautical Training College in 1938. Then in 1954 it was transferred to permanent dry dock in Greenwich for public display.
The Cutty Sark is a great reminder of the country’s esteemed trading history and how important ships like this were to the industry – and it’s wonderful to see that everyone can enjoy its splendour.
I’ll now leave the Cutty Sark and make my way to explore the vibrant and stylish setting of Greenwich Market. Established in 1737, the market is open everyday and offers visitors the chance to buy food, antiques, arts & crafts and fashion. I do enjoy visiting the markets in London, whether that’s the one in Camden or Old Spitalfields, they all have their own uniqueness and quirks about them, and have that village, community feel.
It’s time to leave Greenwich Market and make my way to Island Gardens, but to get there I need to cross over the Thames, and with no bridge, you might wonder how I’d do that? Well that’s where the Greenwich Foot Tunnel comes in! Whenever I’ve crossed the Thames in all my walks in London, I’ve done so over its many bridges, but this is the first time I’m going under the river!
Designed by civil engineer Sir Alexander Binnie for London County Council, the tunnel opened in 1902. The tunnel replaced an expensive and unreliable ferry service and allowed workers who lived south of the Thames to get to their workplaces in the London docks and shipyards near the Isle of Dogs.
The cast-iron tunnel is 1,215 feet (370.2m) long, 50 feet (15.2m) deep with an internal diameter of 9 feet (2.74m). The cast-iron rings are coated with concrete and surfaced with 200,000 white glazed tiles. The tunnel has distinctive glazed domes at either end, and on the North tower there are 87 steps while on the South there are 100 that allow you to walk down to the tunnel. The two tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich are used by 1.5 million people a year (around 1.2 million in Greenwich and 300,000 in Woolwich).
It’s quite futuristic and although it’s not really that pretty inside, it does have a certain character to it, probably because it hasn’t changed much since it was built and you feel like you’re in the London Underground!
Once you’ve walked to the other side, you get a glorious view of the Old Royal Navy College on the other side of the Thames.
Outside the dome of the tunnel is Island Gardens, which is a public park located at the southern end of the Isle of Dogs – which is where its name, ‘Island’, derives from. The park opened in 1895 and is located right near Island Gardens DLR station.
A short walk from Island Gardens brings me to Millwall Park, which includes many sporting facilities and areas for children to play in – and once again is located right next to Island Gardens DLR station. The park does provide a lovely view of one of London’s many business districts near Canary Wharf.
It’s time to move onto the final destination on my walk, Mudchute Park & Farm!
Located in the middle of the Isle of Dogs, Mudchute Park & Farm is 32 acres (13 hectares) of countryside and is one of the largest urban farms in Europe. Once derelict land the name “Mudchute” derives from it being the former dumping ground for mud dredged from the Millwall Docks, which had to be regularly dredged to prevent silting up.
In 1974 the land was earmarked for the construction of a high rise estate, although, local opposition for The Mudchute meant this didn’t materialise and it was secured as the ‘People’s Park’. The Mudchute Association was set up in 1977 to preserve and develop the area, which saw farm animals and horses introduced and trees and plants laid out by volunteers. Since then local schools have benefited from studying the natural world and it has gained a reputation for providing educational and leisure activities from across London.
Open every day and free to enter, the farm has a wide range of animals from ducks, cows and sheep to donkeys, llamas and goats as well as stables and a cafe and shop. The farm relies mainly on volunteering, which gives it a real community feel.
This is the first time that I’ve visited a farm on my walks around London and it does illustrate what an amazing place the capital is – with the farm and countryside right next to the city and Canary Wharf – you couldn’t get more of a contrast. One minute you’re in the tranquil setting of nature surrounded by farm animals and then you look up and see the tall, high rise buildings – the ultimate juxtaposition. I’ve walked through many countrysides in London and they always have their own special element to them and provide many wonderful surprises.
As someone who loves animals and nature, it’s so pleasing to see these farms thriving in London and it perfectly shows that no matter where you live, you can have somewhere that all creatures great and small can enjoy.
Well that’s all from me on today’s walk around Greenwich and its surrounding areas, which has seen me discover everything from astronomy and time to animals and maritime, as well as some quirky and cool features. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post and please let me know your memories of London and what you love about the capital in the comments section!
Thanks for reading and in the meantime you can follow all my walks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and don’t forget to sign up to my blog too so you don’t miss a post! Also why not have a read of my other walks which explore all over London, from north to south, to west to east via central, there’s something there for you! 🙂 And don’t forget to read my very special walk of San Francisco! Here are the links to them all below for you!
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